Conclusion - Pros

  • Good lens, very low distortion and without any real corner softness
  • Fast F2.4 maximum aperture
  • Subtle, natural-looking processing
  • Dual control dials and customizable interface
  • Unrivalled user interface for manual controls and overrides
  • Program shift
  • 21mm lens option
  • Excellent screen
  • Generally fast operation
  • Decent resolution (though by no means class-leading)
  • Raw mode - capable of much better output than JPEG
  • Hot shoe for external (dedicated, TTL) flash
  • Useful range of photographic features
  • Snap focus mode very fast indeed - perfect for street photography
  • High quality construction
  • Very slim
  • Decent battery life
  • Good macro mode

Conclusion - Cons

  • High noise levels at all ISO settings, noise visible even at ISO 64
  • JPEG output soft, lacking biting detail
  • Mild auto exposure and white balance issues
  • Camera, add-on lens and finder are expensive
  • Screen can be hard to see in very bright light, meaning you need the optional finder
  • Some highlight clipping
  • Some purple fringing
  • 13 second shot to shot time limits usefulness of raw mode
  • No raw conversion software supplied (trial of Adobe Photoshop Elements only)
  • Very poor movie mode
  • No battery retaining clip
  • Slow focus in macro mode
  • Lack of zoom will be too limiting for many users

Overall conclusion

The GR digital is one of those cameras you have to use - and use 'properly' to really appreciate. It has without a doubt the best control system of any compact digital camera on the market today for those who like to set their own apertures, shutter speeds, ISO, white balance and so on. I am constantly surprised that the designers of so-called 'serious' compact cameras have, with very few exceptions, not taken the seemingly obvious step of using the dual control dial system that works so well for professional SLRs. Instead most insist that you hold down extra buttons or use menus to change apertures and shutter speeds independently, and few offer 'live' metering (forcing you to half-press the shutter every time). The GR digital is the first compact I can remember using that is designed for a photographer, where the manual options don't seem to be an afterthought thrown in at the last minute to beef up the specification chart. Not only that, the interface and control system is highly customizable, ensuring virtually no redundancy, with every button doing something useful in record mode. If only all cameras aimed at the serious photographer were designed like this.

The lens is obviously very good, though - distortion aside - I wouldn't say it was significantly better than the 28mm end of the Canon PowerShot S80 or Panasonic LX1 (both cheaper, both more feature-laden), and you really need to be shooting raw to get the most out of it. Operation is generally very responsive (raw write speed aside), and the 28mm wide lens and pocket-friendly dimensions make it a fantastic 'walkaround' camera for landscapes and immersive street photography.

Unfortunately the superlative handling and speedy operation are not matched by the output; the sensor and JPEG processing let down the GR-D with results that are - whilst by no means poor - simply not that impressive. JPEGs are noisy at anything other than ISO 100, but they are also quite soft, a combination that makes post-processing for added sharpness difficult if you want to produce large prints. The noise is - at lower ISO settings - quite film grain-like, and the low noise reduction does produce quite natural results, but at ISO 100 and above color noise starts to creep in, and by ISO 400 the results are pretty painful. They do make nice gritty black and whites, but I wouldn't use them to produce a color print at even a very small size. Throw in highlight clipping, exposure and white balance issues and fringing and it's hard to justify something that doesn't cost a lot less than a budget DSLR. Ricoh is to be applauded for not ruining these shots with strong noise reduction; it's just a pity they're not that detailed to begin with.

So then, to sum up: The GR digital is a compact camera that offers an almost SLR-like experience from the look and feel to the fluid control of functions offered. It's one of those 'use me' cameras that encourages you to take more pictures, to experiment and to actually turn off some of the automatic functions and get stuck in yourself. Unfortunately it's also a camera that is only half as good as it can be, thanks to disappointing image quality. You can argue as much as you want about the 'love it or hate it' grainy noise and 'legendary' GR lens, but the truth is that the output is nowhere near as good as you could reasonably expect given that this is an expensive camera with a fixed prime (non zoom) lens and professional level controls. In the right hands, shooting raw, it's capable of good results, but they're really not in a different league to what you can get from any decent 8MP camera on the market today. What endears the GR digital to its many fans is the unique approach to design that puts the craft of photography before the desire to add pointless novelty 'features', now all Ricoh needs to do is to sort out the 'back end' stuff to give us a camera that can deliver results that do justice to the stuff up front.

A niche product, and one that Ricoh should be applauded for designing in a market stuffed with 'me too' cameras, but one that its hard to wholeheartedly recommend. If it had breathtaking image quality the price would be irrelevant, but as it stands you're paying nearly as much as a Nikon D50 outfit for the camera (and a lot more if you include the optical viewfinder), and a lot more than you would for one of the several excellent compacts on the market with a zoom starting at 28mm. If you consider the slimness and superb manual control worth the money, you'll love it. For everyone else it's a lot harder to justify. We ummed and ahhed over the rating on this one for a while, as it is very nearly deserving of a Recommended, but in the end it just doesn't quite add up.

  • Recommended for: Serious users not afraid of shooting raw and post-processing, nor of being restricted to wideangle, who don't care about noise or movie mode, and who aren't put off by the price. Anyone wanting a small camera that can do interiors.
  • Not ideal for: Anyone else, especially 'casual' snap-shooters.
Detail Rating (out of 10)
Build quality 8.5
Ergonomics & handling 8.5
Features 6.0
Image quality 7.0
Optics 8.0
Performance (speed) 8.0
Value 5.0

Above Average

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